Italian Grenades of the Great War Part One – The Lenticolare M.14 Hand Grenade & Other Tales

Which also happens to be the answer to Mystery Item No. 2

This is what the Italian Lenticolare (as in lenticular, as in lentil-shaped) M.14 hand grenade should really look like, with fuse in place and held by the fuse retainer – the ‘missing’ & ‘broken’ components (see top picture) that I mentioned in the original Mystery Post.

The base of my relic example has taken quite a battering,…

…and is thus somewhat less lenticular than it once was, but you get the idea.

Here’s how it worked.  Physically light the eight-second fuse – no friction fuse here – count to whatever number you dare, and throw.  That’s pretty much it.

Or a boffin could come up with an alternative way of delivering the grenade, such as this catapult device, relatively straightforward, if time-consuming, in its operation, and shown here with a Lenticolare grenade in position,…

…or this far more intriguing contraption, introduced mid-way through 1916, which could evidently launch up to eighty Minucciani grenades (a variation of the Lenticolare, and pictured here held by the soldier on the far left) per minute, and, because it used centrifugal force as opposed to pneumatic power or an explosive charge, was virtually silent and required no real training to operate.

I have mentioned before that the Germans were the only combatant nation who entered the war in 1914 with a bespoke hand grenade, the first version of the Kugelhandgranate.  Three years earlier, during the brief war in Libya between Italian & Turkish forces in the latter months of 1911, the Italians used, would you believe, hand grenades designed and supplied to them by a Norwegian inventor, Nils Waltersen Aasen, whose company, based in Copenhagen, were already manufacturing grenades of Aasen’s own design*.  These were stick grenades by any other name, with a sheet iron body attached to a wooden handle, and were known as Aasen A2 grenades after their inventor.  The Italian soldier pictured on the left of this shot from the Libyan conflict has two Aasens attached to his belt, the handles of which are obscured by small parachutes to aid flight (see also inset diagram), while the man kneeling is demonstrating a rifle grenade version of the same grenade.

*by 1917 Aasen would be operating thirteen factories employing some 13,000 workers, mainly supplying grenades and bombs to the French Army.

Thus by the time Italy entered the Great War in late May 1915, the Lenticolare hand grenade and the Minucciani variant were already being, or about to be, distributed among Italian troops, some of whom were already equipped with Aasen A2s left over from the Libyan war.  Interestingly, during the same conflict in Libya an Italian pilot, Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti (pictured in 1910 in a Maurice Farman biplane, above left) is credited as being the first man to drop bombs – quite likely Aasen A2 hand grenades, two of which are pictured, parachutes again clearly visible, in the shot on the right, along with the tubes that would soon be introduced through which to drop them – from an aeroplane (actually a German Etrich Taube).

Although the four bombs he dropped (three on an Arab oasis, and one on a military encampment near Tripoli) did no real damage and caused no casualties as far as is known, they did result in the first-ever shell craters, purportedly pictured above, resulting from a deliberate air raid.  By the time of his death in 1939, Gavotti would have witnessed the hurricane his tiny mission had unleashed, firstly with the bombing raids of the Great War, and later the destruction of Guernica by German air power in April 1937; with the greatest of ironies I have also just realised that Gavotti’s death on 6th October 1939 was the exact day that Poland surrendered to German forces in World War II, a victim of the Blitzkrieg, and the terrifying Junkers JU-87 dive-bombers – the Stukas.

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6 Responses to Italian Grenades of the Great War Part One – The Lenticolare M.14 Hand Grenade & Other Tales

  1. nicholas Kilner says:

    fascinating! absolutely fascinating! a very interesting, and enlightening read. I had no knowledge of any of this. great photos too!

  2. Magicfingers says:

    And what’s more it could double up as an oil lamp! No, it couldn’t, but it was a sensible-enough guess imo. Thanks mate – who knew about the Danes and hand grenades? Not me until I researched all this.

  3. Walter says:

    Intresting

  4. Fascinating stuff indeed, and also Wow! – the Italians had their own version of the West Spring Gun? Although theirs seems less dangerous to the user. Was there any avowed reason for adopting the lenticular shape? I don’t recall any other such design in either the First or Second Unpleasantnesses.

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